Things I’ve Learned From The Canterbury Tales Part One

Canterbury Tales

When I started reading The Canterbury Tales I guessed that I would come across a few things I didn’t already know about the fourteenth century. This has proven to be the case,  even within the first few pages, but some of the things I’ve learned aren’t really enough to sustain a whole post. I thought, therefore, that I would do a series of ‘pick and mix’ posts as things arise. There is nothing to link the things I’m writing about, other than that I came across them in The Canterbury Tales and found them interesting

One of the pilgrims going to Canterbury is a friar. In his description in the General Prologue, Chaucer tells us that the friar keeps knives and pins in his long sleeves to give to women. This came as a bit of a shock to me. Aside from sounding rather dangerous, why was the friar giving things to women? The notes came to my aid here and it turns out that friars, who travelled from place to place preaching and begging for alms, were ideally placed to be pedlars. The friar carried his wares in his sleeves and was always ready to make a sale. Chaucer tells his readers that he made a fair amount of money in this trade. He gives the impression that he doesn’t think this is a good thing.

The friar also participated in ‘love days’. They’re not what you’re thinking. Instead, they were meetings between the parties to a dispute who wanted to reach a settlement out of court. Sometimes this was with the aim of avoiding going to court at all, and sometimes the love day took place after those involved had appeared in court but before a judgement had been made. The friar was an arbiter, putting him in a position where he could receive bribes if he wished, and we assume that he did so wish. Chaucer doesn’t have a very high opinion of his friar. Perhaps he had suffered at the hands of friars at love days. Chaucer made a bit of a habit of being in debt in later life and there are records of cases against him seeking repayment. Some of those cases would have been settled at a love day and not always in his favour.

Sources:
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer edited by Jill Mann
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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18 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Crime and Law, Medieval Life, Medieval Monks, The Medieval Church

18 responses to “Things I’ve Learned From The Canterbury Tales Part One

  1. Interesting! The love days sound reminiscent of our disputes and small claims tribunals, and maybe our restorative justice meetings, too. I don’t recall Chaucer as presenting a particularly elevated view of any of the pilgrims – I remember him doing that very English thing of drawing back a little from his characters to poke fun at them.

    Anyway, I’ve yielded to temptation and ordered a new Canterbury Tales for myself, though Heaven knows when it will arrive as it’s being shipped from the UK.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Really interesting April. I think we did bits from the Canterbury Tales at school but I have never read it through. I admit, the sentence “the friar participated in ‘love days’”, was not one I was expecting so am glad you cleared that up right away!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Bainbridge

    a long time since I’ve read Chaucer. Must do so again.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You are convincing all of us to do The Tales again! Great stuff April!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. …some of us may even do the Tales for the first time!I don’t like the sound of friars now either…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This is so interesting, April. I don’t remember that bit about the Friar having items up his sleeve. I wonder if that is where the saying keeping things up your sleeve comes from?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good idea to combine all the little things you learn from the Tales. Your blog is a great place for post-grad continuing education!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I get the whole ‘peddlar/wares’ perspective, but quite frankly, give the context/mores of the time, I can easily see providing women with weapons to defend themselves probably wasn’t possible in normal trade and friars were the few who could fill the ‘void’? LOL – My grandma gifted me her two ‘hat pins’ and also told me, how they were also ‘self-defense’ tools, for the ‘smart woman’ – 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought about the possibility of them being defensive weapons. Everyone carried knives, though, because they were used for eating and you were expected to provide your own at a meal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • yes – it’s always fascinating to me how those who love history (me – I’m talking about me!) has to guard always against trying to lay current knowledge/mores over the backdrop of historical recordings – :). one of my history teachers in high school showed a picture of a ‘sharp implement’ up on a mantel shelf on a archaelogical site and asked, “is it a religious artifact or a special mark for community status?” And I’ll never forget his final comment on the picture, at the end of the lecture after several ideas were presented/discussed/debated. He said, “It may have been a sharp everyday tool that was put up high so a baby/toddler didn’t injure themselves with it” – LOL

        Liked by 1 person

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